Product Roadmap Voting: Engage Users and Make Better Decisions
For an organization to be successful in the long run, it must learn to constantly identify and verify where its vision meets its customers’ needs.
If you’re reading this article, you’ve probably already been convinced to check with your customers, or teammates whether your future product decisions make sense or not.
And if so, product roadmap voting could be the answer you’re looking for!
Why? It can help you to...
- Avoid wasting time and money on product features that won’t get used
- Take the pulse of your clients about upcoming changes and understand how they want the product to evolve
- Enable customers and staff to triage items from your backlog so you can focus on the things that actually move the needle
Surprisingly, product roadmap voting isn’t standard in business – even in the world of software development, where building and following a product roadmap is a widely adopted approach.
There are lots of compelling reasons for tapping into the collective mind and ideas of people that buy, sell and support your product to drive your roadmap. But equally, there are some drawbacks too.
In this article, we’ll look at what product roadmap voting is, what it’s good for, the traps to avoid, why some still think it’s not always the best move and how you can decide for yourself. Let’s jump right in!
What is product roadmap voting?
The idea is simple. Ask your users and/or the team members most familiar with your product which features do the job, which don’t, which would help them, and what new features they’d like to see the most.
The votes are tallied and the results inform the future development roadmap.
There are some similarities with classic focus groups that marketers have used for decades, except here the people who are voting are doing it live, and already have a vested interest in your product. Also, you can identify how much building something for a group of them or another could mean in terms of higher satisfaction, engagement, revenue, etc.
Product roadmap voting simplifies the way you can collect your customers’ or teammates’ feedback. And with it, you’ll make sure the vote is focused on items that have value within your vision.
It’s important to note that product roadmap voting is often synonymous with feature voting. Only feature voting refers to the vote itself and is often confused with product surveys asking questions like: “What features do you like? Which features don’t you like? What features would you like us to develop?”, etc.
Do we need to share our product roadmap?
Oddly for us, some people ask this question. So here’s how you can answer:
Do you want to know where you’re going next?
Yes, and our clients do too. They love to know what’s happening and want to feel involved.
Do you want to have a plan, so your team knows what to do next?
Yes, and the team will love it too. Especially those who talk to customers every day. They collect lots of vital information they can share to better inform future product decisions.
Do you want your users to know what else they can expect to get from you in the future?
Yes, we do! We don’t want our customers to go to a competitor two weeks before we roll out the exact thing they asked for. We want them to buy more of our products, to upgrade, to further their engagement with our business.
So, do you need to share your roadmap?
No, you don’t. But you will feel a big difference if you do.
Perhaps you don’t need to be that direct. But the point is that sharing your roadmap is a real no-brainer with many benefits to all your major stakeholders.
By the way, it doesn’t need to be time-consuming, hard, or super-detailed. You can follow a simple structure like ours below:
Why should you use product roadmap voting?
Product roadmap voting provides a clear and honest path to development.
Rather than a group of developers in an office sitting around and guessing what features their users want, they can simply ask a group of them and act on that information.
It removes the guesswork of knowing which features to add, which ones to improve, and even which ones to eliminate.
Why should you ask your customers?
Your customers are your revenue – without them, the company doesn’t exist!
Even more importantly, they’re the most regular users of your product or service and know the ins and outs of it.
Think of it as a town, or in this case, a roadmap of a town. Like the people who live in the town, your users can tell you where there’s a dead-end and where they need to have a new road built (new feature). They can show you roads that need to be repaired (features to improve). And they can even show you abandoned roads they never use (features to eliminate).
And just like asking the town which roads they need and which ones you can get rid of, you’ll end up with a lot of answers. Taking the majority of answers that lead you in a specific direction, you can create the roadmap your team needs to know to decide what to develop next and what not to waste time on.
Why should you ask team members?
The people who are doing the sales, the customer care, and the support team in your company are the ones who are closest to the product AND to your users.
They hear from users regularly. They know what needs to be done next, what’s missing, and what customers frequently ask for.
Your team is usually as invested in the success of your product as you are. Even if it surprises many leaders to find out that their team thinks just as much about their products as they do.
Another important reason to ask your team is it shows that you respect their thoughts and want them to feel involved. This doesn’t just translate into better product decisions, but according to Gallup, greater profitability too. They found that highly engaged teams were 21% more profitable, suffered 41% less absenteeism, and 59% less staff turnover.
Your customer-facing teams talk to clients every day, they hear their frustrations, and they know which direction the product should go in.
They want to feel confident customers are being heard to infuse this confidence while talking with your clients. Through your customers, they often have a lot of insight into what the industry expects and what’s on the horizon. Work with them to keep them engaged and stay fresh with new ideas.
When should you not use product roadmap voting?
- You don’t have a product strategy and aren’t offering specific options
It’s dangerous to use product roadmap voting if you don’t already have a strategy. Chances are if you’re afraid that customers’ or teammates’ votes and ideas will push your product in the wrong direction, then you don’t have a strong enough vision.
You should never use this process to prioritize a request based on hot deal criteria. Sure, there’s no problem having a specific feature request coming in while an important business transaction is on, but unless it fits your overall strategy, you shouldn’t proceed.
Remember, this is about asking people to vote on specific features and ideas. It’s not meant to be a brainstorming session. You need to have other channels for that and process it differently. With ProdCamp (shameless plug) you can differentiate proposals from upvotes and keep your focus.
We talk about some of these challenges more in our article about how to use feature voting. But in short, it can lead to misinformation, missed opportunities, and pretty much the exact opposite things you want to achieve when sharing your roadmap.
Referring to an actual roadmap, for instance, you wouldn’t hand a bunch of maps to a group of individuals and say, “Just pick where you want us to go.” You would rather hand them a map and say, “Tell us, do you need to go to Berlin, Paris, or Rome?”
This will yield a consensus. Just like voting in politics, a presidential election doesn’t leave the space blank and let everyone write in whomever they want.
When using product roadmap voting, you need to have:
- An overall product strategy
- A list of items you want to share to get peoples opinions on
You want to provide options to get meaningful data, but don’t expect or ask users to build your product for you.
- You can’t identify the upvoters
You need to know the identities of the voters. Otherwise, you end up with lots of uncertainty whether the voters:
- Have a vested interest in making your business successful. Or are they meaningless votes made by random people, or worse, bots?
- Have much value. After all, you could have 20 customers that represent $100k MRR vote in one direction, while 40 customers worth a total of $5k MRR vote for something else. As you can see, not all votes are necessarily equal (which is why ProdCamp integrates with CRM’s like Salesforce to show you the value of requests).
Additionally, there’s also a risk of identifying who your voters are, but not defining who your core customers are. If this happens, you might make decisions to please a part of your customer base who aren’t likely to stick around anyway.
- When you’re about to sunset a product
If you’re about to sunset a product, it’s not a particularly good idea to collect data on it. Why? You’ll mostly hear complaints from people who don’t want the product to go away or are just dissatisfied with the level of support they can get.
Believe us, nothing useful will come out of it. Stakeholder opinions about a product you’re about to decommission is a bear you simply don’t want to poke.
- You can’t commit to the requests
Product roadmap voting is a powerful tool but it can also be a trap if you commit too much. Time commitments are probably the most dangerous of all. If the feature isn’t ready by the date you announced it, and you have to delay its release constantly, it will have to be extremely good to compensate for the frustration of your users.
A famous example of this in action is the U.K. mobile operator Three. Having seen there was a huge demand from their customer base to introduce eSim support, they announced in December 2018 that they were “working with Apple on supporting eSim and plan to release it as soon as they can”.
In June 2019, they told users that they expected to support eSim by Autumn 2019. After the date passed and nothing happened, they announced they would support it from Spring 2020, then it was pushed back to September 2020. And you guessed it, as of the date of writing in June 2021, they still don’t have widespread eSim support!
What’s happened in the meanwhile? After overpromising their customers, they’ve received a large number of complaints, bad PR, and had to pay out compensation to affected users.
All of this was completely avoidable if only they were realistic at the start about the challenges and time commitment needed to implement eSim support.
- You aren’t talking to your customers
You need to understand beyond why people want a specific feature – and that means talking to them. The why will tell you not only how to build the feature but will help you understand the direction that your product is headed in.
If your user base is changing, for example, they’re older or younger, the requested features might change and that tells you what you can expect in the future.
As a Product Manager, you need to set aside time in your calendar each week to interview your customers. If you need some help, our guide can provide tips on how to conduct product manager customer interviews.
When should you use product roadmap voting?
The simple answer: almost always – just not necessarily with everyone inside and outside of your company.
At times, it might be more appropriate to use it only with a specific set of team members, stakeholders, or clients.
Now let’s tackle the obvious. You need:
a) an idea and probably even a product in beta and...
b) regular users of your product...
… to start using product roadmap voting effectively.
Your product doesn’t have to have been up and running for months or years, but your users need to interact with the product regularly to provide useful feedback.
With that said, this doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t deploy the process before you get your first users. Your transparency and the feeling of having power over your roadmap might just help you get users quicker.
If your product is ready for another big iteration, and you have the finance to support several excellent ideas, this is probably the optimum time to use product roadmap voting. The focus it brings will avoid spreading resources pursuing different horses, bringing more operational efficiency. Even if you are a well-backed company, you still want to use your energy in the right places.
How to set up your product roadmap voting process
There are two main possibilities to tackle product roadmap voting. As a one-off or as a constantly active public roadmap page. (Be aware in this context that public that could also mean it’s only shared internally or to a specific segment of your customers e.g. your paid users).
One-off voting can be done in various ways such as with a push notification to your users or via a simple email (like the template you can follow below).
Hey [Customer Name],
We’re looking to [insert how this will help them, e.g. help you file your tax returns even faster]
There are 3 features we’re considering launching that we feel might help with this, which would you feel is most beneficial to you?
- [Feature 1 + Description]
- [Feature 2 + Description]
- [Feature 3 + Description]
To let us know, simply reply A, B, or C to this email.
Product Manager @ Company
The main advantage is that you have complete control of when you ask for an opinion. For example, you could trigger your notification to occur upon a specific in-app action.
On the other hand, by not having a widely visible page, new incoming users might miss that you’re just about to roll out exactly what they’re looking for.
Shared Public Roadmap
Look at a lot of app websites and you can see a page where they share their roadmap or upcoming feature list. Many use project management tools like Trello, but to be clear, just sharing a feature board is not product roadmap voting. You need your board to be interactive. It’s up to you to decide if you want to make it in the form of a feature list:
Or an agile roadmap:
See above ☝️ (click here)
Once you decide how it should look and what part of it you want your voters to focus on, make sure to follow these two best practices :
Identify your voters – who are they?
Are they longtime users or people who just downloaded the app, voted, and never used the app again? Are they right in your sweet spot? What is the dollar value of your business relationship?
Go beyond the vote – why did they vote that way?
As we mentioned earlier, you need to know why someone wants a feature. It’s not enough to know that they do, you need to use other channels to get more qualitative data to add context. So keep the conversation open with your users about what they want from your product; and do it the right way. Open multiple channels if you don’t want to miss valuable opportunities.
Product roadmap voting alone is not enough
It’s not enough if you don’t go any further in your attempt to go get your users’ feedback and ideas. Following up via a variety of channels will allow you to get a truly rounded and clear idea of what your users want and why. This way you can deliver better features and service.
Your product roadmap voting process could just start with a simple feature list page on your website, each with a short description. This will allow you to get a longitudinal view of what your users want and need without any real-time commitment.
One last thing, remember to make sure your list is up-to-date, or it might do more harm than good!
Public Roadmap Voting Webpage
Show everyone what you are working on, but allow voting only for your users. They will be able to see how dynamic your company is, what you’re working on, what you’ve done, and what’s next. Your public roadmap, as a page on your website, is a product management tool combined with a marketing one. You collect valuable data and showcase how transparent, innovative and customer-centric your company is.
Whether you speak via a video call or through live chat, you need to talk to users. This can be an incredibly valuable way to get qualitative data and dig much deeper into any feedback given with follow-up questions.
However, the main problem you’ll find is the response rate. According to SurveyAnyPlace, the average survey has a 33% response rate – and that’s for a survey, you want to conduct an interview and conversation so expect to hear back from far fewer customers.
A Google Chrome extension will allow you to collect and manage feedback directly from your browser. It speeds up the process, helps you avoid forgetting to note down vital feedback while you work, and helps to get the entire team engaged in the action.
Your customer-facing teams receive feedback every day, a lot of the time via email. An easy solution for them could be to set up a central feedback email and have them forward any valuable feedback and information to it.
In-App Feedback Widget
Feedback from within your app is ideal. You know the person giving you feedback uses your app, and you should be able to easily identify them and their characteristics via your CRM. If this side of your operations is well set, that can mean a lot. Just remember, the feedback you get at that moment is raw and will need to be processed and interpreted.
The biggest benefit of in-app feedback is that it’s a perfect way to catch people while they’re actively thinking about and using your app. You might get some of their frustration, but that’s gold. They tell you about the friction points of your solution on the fly, something no survey will do.
Voting On Behalf Of Users
Allowing team members to vote on behalf of your users will let them put in a vote for someone who calls or emails. It will give your team member a good feeling of what’s coming next since they will also be able to follow the number of upvotes and the status of a specific aspect of your product and use it when talking with your clients.
Of course, you can pull your customer service teams once a month or quarter in the room and try to brainstorm around it to have a sense of what features they’re asked for most often, but voting on behalf will provide you with live, real-time data.
You need product roadmap voting
If you have an app, software, or SaaS, you need product roadmap voting – just make sure to do it right.
Product roadmap voting sets out the priorities for your team and your work going forward. If you don’t have a clear list of those priorities, it’s easy for you and everyone else to get distracted and stuck pursuing different rabbit holes.
Starting to use product roadmap voting as a part of your user feedback and product development strategy is the best way to check that your solutions constantly meet the needs of users. It will also keep your team moving together and show a solid alignment to your users.
Yes, you could develop your own system. But unless you’re the type of company that develops its own CRM without actually selling one, you will probably prefer using a solution that can help you do it.
There are many systems and workarounds like Trello and Google Sheets that you could use to capture customer insights.
But if you want a system that’s purpose-built to help you:
- Collect and centralize feedback from multiple channels including via a public roadmap, forwarding email, chrome extension, in-app widget, and more.
- Process, analyze, and prioritize feedback based on customer value ($), the strategic value of new requests, and the effort required.
- Notify customers and close the feedback loop with release notifications, a changelog, and via your public roadmap.